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Antenatal (or prenatal) classes can help you navigate your way through pregnancy and beyond.

Whether you’re a first-time parent, or need a refresher on how to breathe during labour or handle a newborn, prenatal classes are designed to help you feel confident and ready for parenthood.

“This preparation phase is like training for a major sporting event,” says registered midwife, Pippa Hime. “Imagine arriving at the Comrades Marathon without having done any training. You’d more than likely feel scared and overwhelmed.

“The same applies to pregnancy and childbirth. Even the second time around in every pregnancy is different,” she says. But the good news is, antenatal classes are there to support you through this exciting new chapter.

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what to expect

Susan Lees, registered midwife at Birth Options Midwifery Team in Cape Town, says: “Although every course is different, most prenatal classes have the same aim – to help you achieve the birth you want and prepare you to become a parent.

“We like to focus on the most important aspects of the birth process and the postnatal period, so that parents don’t have to sift through reams of information by themselves,” says Lees.

Her classes typically focus on labour and birth as well as how to care for your new baby, including advice on bathing, dressing and feeding.

Find more tips for preparing for baby’s birth here.

a class for everyone

The best time to attend antenatal classes is between weeks 25 and 30 of your pregnancy. Classes are offered to suit parents’ specific needs, for example:

  • hypnobirthing classes that offer a series of deep relaxation techniques to apply during labour.
  • early pregnancy classes aimed at the pregnancy itself
  • birthing classes that discuss various birth options, pain relief methods and possible complications that could arise.

However, most antenatal courses cover all of these aspects.

Class schedules are also designed to suit parents’ busy lifestyles, says Joburg-based nurse practitioner and author, Ann Richardson.

“Many expectant parents don’t have the time to attend a 10-week course. However, some educators offer ‘crash courses’ over a weekend, while others prefer one-on-one sessions.”

Richardson offers personalised visits where she encourages couples to think about their birth and parenting expectations. She advises them to research and compile a list of questions and concerns to go through in as many sessions as needed.

Read our article on pilates and pregnancy.

reasons to attend

Regardless of the type of class you choose, numerous studies have pointed to the benefits of antenatal classes. One such study involving over 9 000 women, published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, showed that those who attended antenatal classes felt more competent as new mothers and were more likely to breast-feed and attempt natural birth, thanks to the various techniques they learnt.

Attending classes with a birth partner also encourages better communication and bonding between couples, as reported in the Journal of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. Another benefit is that class facilitators are often trained lactation consultants and can assist with breast-feeding and advice once your baby arrives, says Hime. “This kind of support is invaluable in the first few weeks, as new moms feel that they have a go-to person who can be on call to answer any questions or deal with symptoms linked to postnatal depression,” she says. Plus, you get to meet other new parents and possibly form lifelong friendships.

Tammy Jacks